My friend Bernadette from New Classic Recipe came up with the idea to have an on-line cook book club with some of her blog buddies. What fun, and a great way to choose a recipe or two from the books, cook them, and review the books.
“Milk Street Tuesday Nights Mediterranean,” from Christopher Kimball
The first book selected (we are all suggesting different cook books) was “Milk Street Tuesday Nights Mediterranean,” from Christopher Kimball. The book is about simplicity, getting a meal on the table on a weeknight quickly, and deliciously. The recipes I chose lived up to those goals.
Organized by speed
The book is organized into recipes that are Fast, Faster, and Fastest, Salad Suppers, Hearty Vegetarian, Supper Soups, and Flat and Folded. The books offers a range of Mediterranean cultures and traditions, in a “direct, simple, and honest way” that is also healthful. While there are many vegetarian options, Kimball states “We are not afraid of meat or fat, but we are afraid of unnecessary ingredients and over-complicated ingredients.” The recipes achieved this goal as well.
First up, a pasta
I chose two recipes from the book, and, despite being totally contrary to the way I usually use a cookbook (inspiration), and the way I usually execute a cookbook’s recipe (by the feel of it and what I like), I stayed almost totally true to what was written. My only deviation in the recipe was to substitute a plant milk for the whole milk, and I was confident it would not adversely affect the recipe because it was only being used as a softener of the breadcrumbs to make the panade. Besides, I didn’t have any milk in the house and didn’t feel like going to the store for ¼ cup of the full-fat dairy. I also wanted to add more garlic, but didn’t. Do you also always want to tweak here or there? Can’t leave anything alone!
Winter comfort food
I started with the Whole Wheat Pasta with Walnut Sauce and Swiss Chard, a perfect dish for the winter in the north, which we’re told is based on a pasta dish from Liguria in Northern Italy. Additionally, my granddaughter was staying over and since her mother is allergic to tree nuts, this would be something she’d never have a home. Once I said the word spaghetti, she was all in!
In the time it takes for the pasta to cook
We can almost always find local Swiss chard, and the rest of the ingredients were all from the pantry. You could easily substitute spinach or another hearty green here if you can’t find the chard. In the time it took the water to boil and pasta to cook, everything else was ready and waiting. I like that in a weeknight pasta dish.
A hit with all
The dish was delightful, and everyone loved it; a double thumbs up from the kid! Extremely rich and creamy, even though there was no cream in it! The walnuts were indeed the star, and the nuttiness of the whole wheat pasta complimented them. There was only one tablespoon of lemon juice in the sauce, and if I make this again, I would bump this up; with so much pasta, the lemon didn’t even really seem to have a presence or cut the richness, and the recipe made a lot! While it says it will feed 4 to 6, we got eight good servings out of this.
There are some good techniques here, such as using the pasta water for the creaminess, blanching the chard with the pasta at the end of the pasta cooking time, and a beginner cook would be able to execute this easily.
Now, for a bean dish
The second dish I made was Spicy White Beans with Tahini, Lemon, and Parsley, based on a Turkish dish called “Piyaz.” Recipe here. You can put this together in 15 minutes, and it is full of flavor and spice. The recipe calls for a basic lemon and tahini dressing tossed with white beans that have been warmed with cumin and coriander seeds and garlic that have bloomed in olive oil. The recipe called for 3 tablespoons of lemon juice, but no zest. I made the dish as written and tasted it. It was really good. Then I couldn’t resist, I added the zest of that lemon, and it was even better. We nibbled on it for a few days, and at the last, I mashed it up and ate it on crackers. Very good,
Beautiful full-page photos
One of the best aspects of the cookbook is the beautiful photography. Every recipe is presented shot with a full-page glossy photo. This is always a plus for me! Takes a lot of guesswork out of the process, and gets the mouth watering as well!
Budget and time friendly
Is this book going to “change the way America Cooks?” not really, but the bottom line is that whether you are a fan of Kimball or not, the book has some good basics, and simple introduction to flavors from other countries; if you want to spread your wings and try something new in terms of spices, but don’t have a lot of extra time, you’ll find some good ideas here that won’t break the bank or take too much time. The ingredients are easily sourced for the most part, and suggestions are made for possible substitutions. For instance, a recipe called for ground sumac, and let you know you could substitute a little lemon juice if it couldn’t be found.
For other reviews of this book, and additional recipes, please go to Bernadette’s site for links.
Whole Wheat Pasta with Walnut Sauce and Swiss Chard
- ½ cup panko bread crumbs
- ¼ cup whole milk (or plant milk!)
- 1 lb. whole wheat farfalle or spaghetti
- Kosher salt and ground pepper
- 1 bunch Swiss Chard leaves (about a lb.) chopped 2-inch pieces
- 1 ½ cups walnuts
- 1 oz. Parmesan cheese, without rind, chopped
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 small garlic clove
- 1 tbsp. lemon juice
- 1 tbsp. fresh marjoram or oregano, minced
- Parmesan to garnish
In a small bowl, stir together the panko and milk; set aside while you cook the pasta. In a large pot, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Stir in the pasta and 2 tbsp. salt, then cook stirring occasionally, until 2 to 3 minutes shy of al dente. Add the chard to the pot and cook until the pasta is al dente. Reserve about 1 ½ cups of the cooking water, then drain the pasta and greens; return them to the pot.
Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine the panko mixture walnuts, Parmesan, oil, garlic, lemon juice, marjoram, ½ tsp. salt, and ¼ tsp. pepper. Pulse until the walnuts are roughly chopped, about 3 pulses, then process until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs about 20 seconds, Add 1 cup of the reserved pasta water, then process util smooth and creamy, about another 30 seconds, scraping down the bowl once.
Add the walnut sauce to the pasta-chard mixture, then toss to combine, adding reserved pasta water as needed so the sauce coats the noodles. Serve drizzled with additional oil and sprinkled with grated Parmesan.
Author’s Notes: Don’t toast the walnuts for this sauce. Also, don’t use the chard stems; they require longer cooking than the delicate leaves. But don’t throw them out as they can be quick pickled or sauteed with aromatics when making soups or stews.
My Notes: I used almost the entire 1 ½ cups of water in making the sauce. It will depend on your pasta.
I think this would be delicious with any favorite nut, pecans or cashews come to my mind here! You could also substitute a favorite green here as well, such as spinach, if you can’t find the chard. I would be tempted to chop up and use the stems as well, or the pickling idea served alongside would be good.
This is easily made vegan by substituting the plant milk and vegan Parmesan at the end.
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